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Not Dangerous Enough Life of Boys

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

I have a little friend who, when he was only five, did a horrendous thing. He bit a boy at school. This particular boy had been pestering him for months, and my little friend lashed out by sinking his teeth in.
A human bite, unfortunately, is not clean, and it sent the bully on a trip to the Emergency Room. Meanwhile my little friend was given quite the verbal lashing by the principal about how violence is never the answer.

His mother, a good friend of mine, was quite perplexed about how to react. Personally, I told her, I think his transgression was twofold: he used his teeth rather than his hands, and he did so at school where violence is never permitted. Other than that, was he really so wrong? Kids have been fighting back against bullies for time immemorial, and it’s often quite effective in getting bullies to back off.

Taking the publishing world by storm a few years ago was The Dangerous Book for Boys. It doesn’t give secrets on how to get your mothers to feed you chocolate or how to get your way with women. It simply talks common sense about things that have been part of boyhood almost forever, until our generation forgot them. Things like how to tie a knot, how to fish, how to jump from a rock into the water, or how to survive in the wilderness. These were the plotlines of most boys’ novels until relatively recently, when we started to believe that what boys truly desired was to share their feelings.

When places like schools try to curb boys’ natural impulses to be active, risk-taking, and even a bit violent, we run the risk that children will start acting out inappropriately in places with less supervision. If boys are told they must sit still and listen to books all day, they’re more likely to go off the rails after school. If boys can’t play tag at recess because it’s too competitive, or they can only play if everyone gets to be “it”, we aren’t going to curb their natural boyhood impulses. They’re simply going to express them in other ways.

Over the years we have taken all the danger out of childhood. We do this in the interest of safety, and few could argue against bicycle helmets for children, or against safe playground equipment, or for playing with matches. But there is a part of boys, and even many girls, that still yearns for risk.

Remember the playground equipment when we were young? You ran a risk every time you used the teeter totter because you had to trust the guy on the other end not to jump off suddenly. And what about that merry go round? They’re removed from most playgrounds today because if you get a few bigger kids creating momentum, a smaller child could go flinging off. Of course, that’s why many boys ride them in the first place—the flinging part is the attraction! But that’s all the more reason to get rid of these dangers.

As schools banish anything resembling danger, much of the adventure of childhood is being removed. For all children, but especially for boys who tend to gravitate towards risk-taking more than girls do, this isn’t always a good thing. That’s why The Dangerous Book for Boys is needed. It’s a philosophy to bring adventure back into family life, even if the schools are squeezing it out because they’re afraid of being sued.

Most boys love seeing things explode, or collapse, or go bang. They love starting fires, sleeping outdoors, and even killing things. It’s time for some adventurous, adult men to step up to the plate and let boys be just a little bit dangerous. What else is childhood for?

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At 9:55 AM , Anonymous jrmiss86 said…

I have had to learn not to watch out the window when my son (5) is playing in our backyard. Never fails, the minute I do, it is while he is doing something that makes my heart stop, but he has the biggest smile on his face. I could never take that away from him, no matter how much it makes the momma bear in me want to go running out to keep him safe.


At 9:55 AM , Blogger Laura said…

Another great post! I have two boys that do not sit still!! Are they hyper or just boys? My hubby and I are starting classes to be foster parents. This exact subject came up during our psychotropic meds class. The statistics on children (esp. boys) that are on ADHD meds is staggering!! And this is statistic was between children 3-5yrs old!!! Are the ADHD or just boys? We are feminizing our boys and I think it could possibly be devestating!!


At 10:16 AM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

Wow, Great minds think alike. I wa just thinking about this very same thing. You'll know what I mean very soon.

Suffice it to say, I agree with you 100%.


At 10:16 AM , Blogger LWH said…

BRAVO! As the mom of 3 sons (9.5, 6.5 and 2.5) I think you're absolutely right on the money here. I think the Dangerous Book for Boys may be on the Christmas list this year!


At 3:36 PM , Blogger Ellen said…

I am going to have to look for that book! My oldest is a boy (4.5yrs) and I do struggle with the fact of where to draw the line between healthy risk (like you mentioned) and serious danger; when to back off or step in. Thanks for the great post!!


At 8:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Exactly! This was a major reason for our reason to homeschool. I actually just wrote a post on boys being 'wild at heart' (as John Elredge says in his great book.)As a mother of 3 boys I love encouraging them to be boys instaed of trying to civilise them.


At 7:31 AM , Blogger Lisa Marie - The Canadian Homeschooler said…

I wholeheartedly agree. There's so much missing that past generations had the benefit of experiencing. My 3 boys (6, 4½ and 3) are ALWAYS roughhousing. I need to remember to get them out of the house more. Like jrmiss86 said, I have learned (particularly with my overactive middle son, to just parent backwards. He's happier, I'm happier). haha. Great article!


At 9:47 AM , Anonymous nurse Kristy said…

My younger son has the Dangerous Book...he is now almost 15, and when he was younger, the testosterone in his system was completely obvious... he was my explorer, my fire-starter, my taker-aparter, my combiner of household cleaners (bad idea!) and my "But I want to *win*!!!" kid.

We really had to work to channel those activities and finally got to the point where all experiments needed to be vetted by mom for safety reasons and done at the kitchen table (or outside).

He is also my impulsive, not realizing the consequences kid - and because of petty theft issues dating back more than ten years despite active, consistent parenting, he takes meds for ADHD. He still takes part in all his interesting activities, and his brain still works in a uniquely male way - but now, he can see where he needs to be more focused and cautious. And the day we started the medication, the theft *completely* stopped. Historically, when he is on a medication vacation, he reports much greater difficulty controlling those urges (he knows it is his job to let us know when he needs to get out of a situation) - or he doesn't report them, and is caught red-handed.

One has to be careful about categorizing ADHD meds as trying to stop boys from being boys, as some comments seem to some situations, that may be somewhat true, but in others, there is legitimate cause for meds. ADHD presents itself in many different ways - hyperactivity is only the most visible attribute, and not all kids with ADHD are hyperactive. Some like my kids, are more the inattentive/impulsive type.

His risky activity of choice is jiu jitsu - it gives him a fantastic outlet for all that male energy, and self-control is paramount...


At 12:08 PM , Blogger Katy-Anne said…

I think it's interesting that a mom of girls thinks she knows what it takes to parent boys.


At 5:19 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Katie, That sounded a little snarky! :).

Honestly, I find that comment a little strange. I have nephews. I have tons of friends that have boys. It's not like I live completely walled off from anyone male. Plus, my husband was a boy. And he grew up with three brothers. Obviously we're always talking about parenting issues!

And it is a general interest column. I can't always talk about only things that are in my individual life, or I wouldn't pertain to others.

Are you saying that I can only talk about war if I've been a soldier? That I can only talk about divorce if I've been divorced? That I can only talk about life if I personally have lived through it? Then nobody could ever write a fiction book or nobody could ever opine on 90% of the subjects we talk about!


At 9:12 PM , Blogger Nancy said…

As a mother to one son and three daughters, I many times have to close my eyes or walk away. This mommy-heart just can't take all that danger. And it just isn't from my son.


At 6:53 AM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

Yes, Katy-anne, that really did sound snarky.

And didn't you recently weigh in on Sheila's post about parenting teens? If memory serves, your oldest child is what, four? Maybe younger?

I posted on parenting boys today as well, even though I also have no sons. My husband is one of five sons though, so I hope that qualifies me just a little, lol.

Hey Sheila, your hubby was a boy once too, right?

I just popped ove rto say that I linked to you today and here I am getting myself into trouble. I better go have my coffee.


At 9:15 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Terry--Thanks for the link!

And here's a comment from Marie-Claire that came through email. She couldn't submit it here because Blogger was doing something weird, so I'll publish it for her:

"I have been enjoying your column and appreciate your insights on such a varied number of topics. I particularly enjoyed today's piece about boys. As a parent of many boys I feel qualified to comment - I have both experienced raising boys and have researched the topic quite extensively. While I tend to agree with much of what you have written, I just wanted to add a couple of things. We here have had many dare-devil acts and bumps and bruises over the years to prove it. True, many boys are more likely to build contraptions, plan wild outdoor stunts, and perform physical feats that some girls wouldn't dare try. On the other hand, we witness daily many sweet and very gentle acts of kindness plus a very close emotional bond with our sons that those who have not raised boys might not expect. What I am saying is, the neat thing about boys is that they can be both physical and "dangerous" as you say, but also loving and compassionate little men at the same time. (Of course girls are wonderful, too, just saying, since the topic is boys...) I am also concerned with the statement about "killing things"...but that is the subject of a much longer comment. In terms of homeschool, we must not forget to include a physical component for boys, or any child for that matter, to be sure that they have ways to utilize their energies and apply their physical talents, rather than hold them at a desk or kitchen table squirming when all they really want to do is grab some blankets and go built a fort! Two additional titles your readers may be interested in: "The Boy's Book: How to be the best at everything (Scholastic)" and "The Boy's Doodle Book: Amazing pictures to complete and create" (Andrew Pinder). Girls will enjoy these books, too. Thank you so much for your terrific article."

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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